By: Michael Pratte, uOttawa MD student
The time I have spent studying in university has been marked by an increasing interest in the field of global health. Even early on, I was attracted by the aspects of policy, public health and bioethics that come together in this field; the opportunity to build upon medicine and use it to address healthcare inequalities worldwide seem the ideal combination of the arts and sciences that I want out of my career. For me, global health is an interdisciplinary collective effort to address disparities in healthcare throughout the world. It is also a lifelong dedication to helping those in need not only in one’s own clinic, but beyond through care, advocacy and social accountability.
That is why, when I heard about the opportunity to conduct a clinical elective in the Ottawa-Shanghai School of Medicine toward the end of my first year of medical school at uOttawa, I jumped at the opportunity. Excited for the chance to combine travel abroad with the ability to do global health work, I was also daunted by the financial investment required (something that had kept me from international humanitarian work in the past). Seeking ways to finance the trip, I came across the Department of Family Medicine Global Health Bursary, which played a major role in allowing me to pursue the fantastic opportunity.
Visiting Shanghai to study Cardiac Surgery was as exciting as it was unnerving. Not speaking Mandarin, I worried that I would be left behind in the hospital, but that could not have been farther from the truth. My preceptor was an incredible hybrid between a cardiac surgeon and interventional cardiologist, allowing me to shadow – and often participate – in his many procedures. Urged by incredible patient loads, we would often work from the early morning well into the evening. Because of China’s massive size, patients often neglect to visit hospitals in major cities until symptoms grow to be unavoidable; the result is that most patients admitted to the hospital were well advanced in their disease, and requiring urgent treatment. This combined with the sheer volume (over 1600 admissions per day in Shanghai), created a uniquely challenging environment for even the hardiest of surgeons.
Doing this elective in a developed country so similar yet so different than my own opened my eyes to a number of things. Primarily, as someone interested in health policy, quality improvement research and patient advocacy, it taught me how other countries dealt with their own healthcare issues. It also showed me how, even under these circumstances, physicians are able to maintain the humanity and empathy that should always underlie our care. Above all, I saw how care transcends culture and boundaries, and how we as healthcare professionals continue to work around the world to improve the health of our patients.